Does the sun rise for ChatGPT? Scientific discovery in the age of generative AI

Paper by David Leslie: “In the current hype-laden climate surrounding the rapid proliferation of foundation models and generative AI systems like ChatGPT, it is becoming increasingly important for societal stakeholders to reach sound understandings of their limitations and potential transformative effects. This is especially true in the natural and applied sciences, where magical thinking among some scientists about the take-off of “artificial general intelligence” has arisen simultaneously as the growing use of these technologies is putting longstanding norms, policies, and standards of good research practice under pressure. In this analysis, I argue that a deflationary understanding of foundation models and generative AI systems can help us sense check our expectations of what role they can play in processes of scientific exploration, sense-making, and discovery. I claim that a more sober, tool-based understanding of generative AI systems as computational instruments embedded in warm-blooded research processes can serve several salutary functions. It can play a crucial bubble-bursting role that mitigates some of the most serious threats to the ethos of modern science posed by an unreflective overreliance on these technologies. It can also strengthen the epistemic and normative footing of contemporary science by helping researchers circumscribe the part to be played by machine-led prediction in communicative contexts of scientific discovery while concurrently prodding them to recognise that such contexts are principal sites for human empowerment, democratic agency, and creativity. Finally, it can help spur ever richer approaches to collaborative experimental design, theory-construction, and scientific world-making by encouraging researchers to deploy these kinds of computational tools to heuristically probe unbounded search spaces and patterns in high-dimensional biophysical data that would otherwise be inaccessible to human-scale examination and inference…(More)”.

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